Monday, February 15, 2016

Ironman Arizona Race Report: Epilogue

Three months. Today marks exactly three months since I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles to become an Ironman.

Some days, it feels like yesterday. Some days it feels like 20 years ago. But isn’t that always the case with racing – and so many other wonderful events in a person’s life? You can never really remember every single moment.

You want to know the funny thing?

It’s still hard for me to comprehend those distances. I remember the first time I read about the Ironman, I couldn’t comprehend the miles involved. You’d think that after finishing the race, I’d have a better grasp of just how far an Ironman is. The truth is almost the opposite.

Three months later, I can’t fathom that I was actually swimming, biking and running for almost 14 hours.

I remember a quick swim, a wet and rainy bike ride where I had the courage to ride fast (for me) downhill in the rain, and a run that started out beautifully and then had a few issues between kilometer 14 and the finish line.

Okay, I remember that my back hurt…a lot. To be honest, though, the most difficult part of the day happened in the finisher’s chute…the steps between stopping to savour the moment and crossing the actual finish.

Wow. Those three steps were hard.

But I remember smiling as I took each one of them.

I remember my Dad catching me at the finish line. My mom telling me I came in under 14 hours. My friends cheering me along the way and after I finished.

I remember checking my Blackberry and having 144 Facebook updates and messages. That’s when I realized just how many people at home had followed my Ironman Journey – who were pulling for me all through that amazing and unexpected day. My mom. My brothers. Other family and friends. Those posts and cheers made my day.

Ironman Arizona. It’s still crazy to think that I did it. I really did it.

I have to give huge thanks to everyone who helped me on my journey – who made my crossing the finish line possible:
  • To my parents – for being with me every step of the way. While my Dad was there in person, my Mom was glued to her computer all day. I am not sure who had the harder job (or most stress) that day. 
  • To my coach – Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching. You are a rockstar. I don’t know quite how you did it, but you got me to the finish line. Your advice, words of wisdom, constant support and sheer patience with me mean a lot. I look forward to having your help as I take on my next big (if shorter!) goals!
  • To my brothers and friends at home – for support, encouragement and keeping  everyone else in the know about where I was and how I was doing. For staying up crazy late to watch me cross the finish line – and to screen capture and video every drunken moment of it.
  • To my friends Paula and Karen – who came out to Arizona to cheer me on – and who were instrumental in helping my Dad navigate an Ironman Race Day.
  • To my friend Barry and his penchant for having Tiger Balm around. Here is to your quick thinking (and quick running). You were a lifesaver. I attribute my 42 second sub-14 hour finish to you. I didn’t stop a single time after I saw you under the bridge. You are awesome.
  • To the girls in the TTC who did IMAZ - the fact we all finished is amazing and says a lot about how awesome we all are. Thanks for the encouragement, support, group rides and everything else leading up to race day.  So glad to share the race with you. Onwards and upwards!
  • And of course, to all the awesome volunteers and other spectators – who braved cold and wet weather to help every racer out there. You deserve your weight in gold.
An Ironman Can be Anyone

I remember my Dad telling pretty much every person we met on the rest of our Epic Road Trip that I was an Ironman. I blushed every time.

Heck, I think I blush whenever I hear my cell phone ring because my Dad programmed the ringtone to be Mike Reilly saying, “Jana…come on, just a few more steps. You are… Ironman.”

I hear the words. I remember crossing the finish line. And yet, I still have this odd sense of wonder at the whole thing.

I wonder if people look at me when they hear I’ve done an Ironman and think, “Right, Sure you did.” I know I don’t look like an Ironman.

Then again, what does an Ironman look like?

If I did it, I guess that an Ironman can look like me: an average 37 year old single girl. But an Ironman can also look like my ultra-fit cousin Bob and my friends Hector, Kim, and LK – or someone with few extra pounds, sometimes more. 

An Ironman can look like someone in a wheelchair, a person with one leg or no legs – someone who is blind, or deaf, or who has ALS.

An Ironman can be a nun, a single parent, a grandparent, an octogenarian.

An Ironman can be a former drug addict or alcoholic, a cancer survivor, a heart transplant recipient.

Really, now that I think about it: An Ironman can be ANYONE.

It can be me. Or you. Or you. (Yes, I mean YOU).
But how does a normal person turn a dream into reality? After all, it's kind of a crazy goal.

In my mind, becoming an Ironman takes 3 simple things. Well, simple in theory…maybe not in execution.


If there’s one thing you need more than anything else, it’s commitment. Training for an Ironman is an incredible task – there’s no doubt about that. It’s not a race to enter on a whim. You need to commit to what you want – and then do everything it takes to get you there.
Depending on where you start and what you want to achieve, this might mean months or years of dedication before you toe the line – certainly it will take lots of time swimming, biking and running…not to mention doing laundry.


Back in my second year of university, I joined the swim team when I was a terrible swimmer (I saw a sign that said ‘Any skill level welcome’ and believed it). At the end of the year, the team gave me the Perseverance Award. I might have sucked as a swimmer, but they knew I was never going to give up. I was going to finish what I started.

If you’re going to take on an Ironman, you’re going to need every bit of perseverance you can muster. Not just on race day when you might have to deal with unexpected things (like a back spasm), but throughout the long training cycle – through 6 or 7 hour bike rides, 3 hour runs, and long swims. There will be good days and bad days…you need to be able to thrive on the best days and get beyond the worst. When you doubt yourself or when others doubt you, you need to look in the mirror and say: “Watch me.”


I mostly train alone, but I still have a huge support system. My parents and brothers are behind me a hundred percent. So are my closest friends – even the ones who think I’m nuts.

As mentioned above, I have an awesome coach in Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching – who has helped me for 2 years now. He figured out how to get me to the start line confident I could do it. He patiently kept me practicing until I could take my hands off my handlebars (it took 18 months). He’s still trying to get me to ride aero (that might take 18 years). I also have all the other coaches at LPC, who have helped me at triathlon clinics, training days – and at the Florida Triathlon Camp.

And, of course, I have my friends in the Toronto Triathlon Club – who I train with when I can, who I raced with in Arizona, and who I rode with a lot last summer (especially my friend Carole!). While you might train alone – you can’t do it alone. Certainly you don’t have to. Join a club, join an online triathlon group, go to a camp, hire a coach if you can.

Take support when you can get it – and be thankful for everyone who helps you. Make sure you pay it forward in the future.

Commitment. Perseverance. Support.

Oh, right - and a relentless belief that you can do it.  If you don’t believe in yourself – then who will?


Ironman Arizona Race Report: Chapter 4: The Aftermath

Okay, this one will be short. I promise.  

Crosses fingers behind back.

Mostly, I felt like my run report was so long, it was getting ridiculous (did anyone actually make it to the end?), so I figured I’d deal with what happened after I crossed the finish line in a separate post.

So there I was….my Dad had caught me at the finish line.

But that wasn’t all! My friends were there too. My friend LK (who finished in an incredibly speedy time), Lifesaver Barry, and my dear friends from Missouri – Paula and Karen.

My awesome Missouri cheering section - Paula and Karen
In fact, now we have a similar picture from when Paula crossed the finish line last year, and when I did it this year. When Karen comes to IMAZ to get revenge, I am going to try my darnedest to be there for her too. Would love, love, love to put a trilogy of pictures (even if they aren’t the best pictures thanks to the darkness) on my wall.
Paula's finish in 2014

After saying hi and thanks to my friends, I let my Dad and the kind (and incredibly tall) volunteer that was my ‘official’ catcher help me to the photo section. The volunteer grabbed my finisher’s shirt and cap, and was more than happy to hold my stuff while I got my picture taken, and then got one with my Dad for good measure. Priceless.

Almost standing up straight!
Me and my Dad. He's still holding me up!
Thank you awesome volunteer!

I made it through to the athletes’ recovery section of the finish, where they had food tents set up. I caught up with a bunch of friends there, probably because most of us finished within an hour or so of each other.
On the somewhat funny side, not long after I finished, the clouds opened up and rain came pouring down one more time. All I could do was feel for the poor folks still out there on the course now getting another downpour. Thankfully, it didn’t last forever.
Some of the Toronto contingent - LK, Erin, Carole and I
The rest of my friends who raced decided to wait for the midnight finishers…but I couldn’t handle standing up for one more moment. While stopping had helped my back a million percent, what I really wanted was my bottle of Advil back in the hotel room.

To put it in perspective, I didn’t even want a beer! I had been dreaming of beer all day – and now I had no desire to have one.

So, I bid all my friends goodnight, and my dad and I headed out. Paula and Karen waited for me – and when I made a comment about needing to get my bike and gear bags, I found out they’d already taken care of everything for me.

These women are the most wonderful friends you could have. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated them that night – and all through the race week. All this because I met Paula at my first LPC Florida Triathlon Camp in 2013. I still remember her taking a picture of my first tip-over in clipless pedals. I still have that bloody knee picture! Can’t wait to ride with all my Missouri friends at camp again in a few weeks.

Back at the hotel, I don’t remember much – except getting back to my hotel room and seeing a handwritten sign my friend Paula had stuck up on the hotel room door to welcome me back.

I think I teared up. Yes, I still have the sign. It's stuck to my wall by where I hang my medals (nothing fancy, just some nails in my wall).

I got into the room and savoured my very long hot shower. I can’t believe how much dirt and mud I collected over the course of the day. Ick.

When I got out, I took the two most highly-anticipated Advil of my life.

The next day

I’d like to say I had a good night sleep…but really, like that was going to happen after being on my feet (and having a bunch of caffeinated Gus) all day. But I did nod off for a few hours very intermittently. Every time I moved, something ached.

But would you believe when I woke up the next morning at 6am (so we could get in line for Finisher’s Gear), my back didn’t hurt a bit?

Of course it didn’t. I was achy and sore pretty much everywhere BUT my back. Really, it’s quite hilarious in hindsight.

All in all, I actually felt a lot better than after running my first marathon (and even my second). I ached in more places and I had to move in stiff, aching steps, but my legs didn’t feel like jello or like they’d collapse at any minute. I was pleased about that.

All of the Toronto gang made it to the lineup for the Finishers’ Gear – probably because 6 of 8 of us were first time Ironman finishers. I think we all looked pretty good, considering!
You are an Ironman. And You. And You. And You. And You. And You.
Also...I think it was warmer in Toronto that day than in Tempe.
After spending a fortune (no comment) in the store…my Dad and I stopped at Denny’s where I ate my weight in food.
I'll take that...and that, oh and some of that.
I was incredibly tired looking, but at least I was sitting up straight! In fact, despite how I looked, I was feeling pretty awesome.
Okay, I just had to stick this one in here. Too perfect not to.
After heading back to the hotel, packing up, and saying goodbye to Paula and Karen, my Dad and I headed off into the sunset…

A re-enactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Or more accurately – we headed off to Tombstone! Because while my Ironman Arizona journey was complete, there was still a lot more of the Epic Road Trip to go.

There will be more on that in a future post.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ironman Arizona Race Report - Chapter 3: Don't Trip

Some people say, ‘Don’t drown. Don’t crash. Don’t walk’ as the expression I’ve been quoting in my chapter titles during my Ironman Arizona race report. That expression just makes me annoyed. As if walking is a catastrophic (or deadly) failure.

What baloney.

That person who walks during a marathon is the same thing any other person crossing the finish line is: a marathoner.

Walking is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not a failure. It’s recognition that you are still moving forward. That you aren’t giving up. That you’ve got this.

You know what it takes to become an Ironman? It takes not giving up.

As I wobbled my way into T2, I was sopping wet. I wasn’t cold yet, but I think that was mostly because I was too stiff to really have the temperature sink in. All I knew was that only 26.2 miles (42.2km) separated me from the finish line. That thought had me grinning (oh, wait – I’m usually grinning when I race).

But I knew I had conquered my biggest fear: the bike – in the pouring rain, no less. I saw starting the run as being almost home free.

Crazy in hindsight. It is the Ironman after all.

I have to give it to the organizers and volunteers at Ironman Arizona. When the weather turned, they responded on a dime. I suspect I’m not the only one who expected Arizona to be hot and dry that day. But as I approached the change tent, I could feel a blast of warm air coming from it. They’d set up heaters inside the tent to warm up racers. As I entered, a volunteer wrapped me in one of those tinfoil warming blankets. It was like a moment of heaven.

The women’s change tent itself was a mess. It was wet, muddy, smelly and packed with shivering women. Similar to my T1 experience, I decided to change while standing up. There wasn’t really space to sit down – and I couldn’t begrudge any of the women in chairs blocking the way to other chairs. So many looked freezing cold.

Guess that’s one benefit of being from Canada – it didn’t seem so bad to me. I was getting a bit chilled standing in one spot, but overall I felt no worse than I’d expected to feel coming off the bike after 180km.

So I dumped my run gear out on a table. I admit that changing was an incredibly slow process. The ground was so mucky, I stood on my bike shoes to try and keep my feet semi-dry (oh, the mud!).  Sadly, my T2 bag had been sitting outside in the pouring rain, so I found a fair bit of my stuff was damp. Thankfully not sopping wet though. I peeled off my bike clothes, slowly maneuvered my way into my tri-top, shorts, socks and running shoes ….put on my visor, my race belt, and grabbed my handheld water bottle.

I debated extra gear – arm warmers in particular – but I know that I get warm very quickly when I run, so I decided to forgo my good gear since I didn’t want to lose or throw good stuff away later.

It didn’t occur to me until after the race that I could’ve packed some throw-away sock-gloves like I would for a standalone marathon. Maybe next time!

So I wrapped up in the tinfoil blanket, figuring I’d use that as an extra layer until I warmed up – then I could throw it away.

I got all my sodden bike gear back into the bag and handed it off to a volunteer. I exchanged quick greetings with my friend Erin who was in the change tent too, and then headed out of the tent.

It wasn’t raining! Whoohooo!

I stopped at a portapottie in transition (Ewwwwwww is all I can say about that experience), and then headed out onto the run course. Swim and bike down. Just a marathon to go!

T2 Time: 14:28

Yikes. I think I did my first try-a-tri run faster than that transition!

The tinfoil blanket drove me nuts running out of transition, but I admit I was getting chilled by that point, so I tried to find a decent way to wear it without it becoming a nuisance. Can’t say I ever found the best way.

Just outside of T1, they’d opened Special Needs to runners just coming out of transition.

For people who don’t know much about Ironman…Special Needs is something unique to Ironman (and maybe other Iron Distance) races. You get a bag to put some extra stuff in – which you can access mid-way through the bike, and then a different bag that you can access mid-way through the run. You don’t need to stop (I didn’t on the bike), but you have the option.

I don’t know if IMAZ does this normally (usually you’d get access to Special Needs after 1 lap), but given the number of people who stopped (likely to put on warmer clothing no one expected to need until the sun set), I think it was a wise idea.

I didn’t stop at that point, thinking I’d prefer my clean -and hopefully less than damp - socks on the next loop.

Not long out of transition, I ran into my friends Paula and Karen. I think it was Paula caught me in my very trendy outfit. And here I was thinking there was no photographic evidence.
Thrilled to be on the run - Just a marathon to go!

About a kilometre into the run, I warmed up considerably. I shed the tinfoil blanket and dumped it in the trash at the top of a landscaped hill. The course doesn’t have much in the way of real hills, but the cosmetic ones count a lot more after you swim 3.8km and ride 180km.  

I enjoyed the run course when I did a loop of it in 2014 when volunteering – and the same was true on race day. I like that the course winds around the lake for large portions, always giving me things to look at. Plus, this time I had other competitors running around me, so I never felt alone.

The first 5 or so km (maybe more or maybe less) went much better than I was expecting along the paved lake path. When I saw my friend LK – on her way to a spectacular finish something like 4 hours ahead of me – I couldn’t have felt better.

But then the course doubled back along a dirt trail that runs more adjacent to the lake. I actually liked this path in 2014 when I ran it. But this year, there was a big problem.

You see….a dirt path turns to mud in the rain. When I turned onto the path, all I could think was, “Oh, Shit.” (Apologies for swearing, but that is exactly what I was thinking). The whole path had turned into a gross muddy swamp. I picked my way through it, hoping not to trip. I came close on several occasions.

A few other competitors and I joked that we didn’t know we had signed up for the Iron Mudder as we slogged through the mess. Thankfully sans electroshocks.

We followed the muddy and puddle-y path almost all the way back to transition, where we then made our way down to the opposite end of the lake. I remember seeing a sign on a small piece of yellow Bristol board somewhere along that stretch: “Smile, it makes the pain hurt less” – or something along those lines. It made me smile, not that I was feeling pain at that point.

Insert maniacal laughter here.

Really, when it comes down to it, the first 10km of the marathon went perfectly, even with the mud. My legs felt surprisingly good. My pace was strong – hovering under 6min pace per kilometer. I was eating regularly and sipping from my hand-held.

I really did feel good the first 10-14k!
But it’s the Ironman…and anything can happen on race day. And that day – for me – it did.

Around 14km, my back suddenly spasmed. This took me completely by surprise since I don’t have back issues. If anything, I expected my calves to do something – not my back!

Immediately, my back knotted up and began to ache. I shortened my stride and tried to massage it out. This happened not too long before Curry Road (the one real hill on the course), so when I reached the hill, I made my way carefully up the hill, mostly jogging very easy. At the top, I had to stop for a minute. I tried bending backwards over the railing of a fence to try and loosen up my back. This helped, but not much.

Still smiling (and running), but I was starting to hurt.
For the next 6 or 7km, I tried to jog as much as I could, stopping intermittently to try and work the tension out of my back. My pace dropped considerably – the only good thing was that I had some nice downhill where I could let gravity take control. I tried to run as best I could downhill and then just did what I could do on the flat.

Crossing the bridge back, I started to walk a lot more. I noted the sun was getting low in the sky...but at least it wasn’t raining. I wasn’t cold at all. I couldn’t help but smile.

My Dad was waiting for me at the turn to start the second loop. I was so glad to see him!
Dad: How do you feel? Me: If I felt any better, I'd be in Heaven!
Sorry, inside joke.
Despite my reassurances that I felt pretty good - just unable to run because my back was so tight - I am sure he was very worried about me (I don’t think I looked that bad, but I’ll let you be the judge). He suggested a visit to the next first aid tent – but I said that was unnecessary.

To be honest, I was afraid someone would suggest that I stop. Not that they would have, but how was I to know.

And I figured my back wasn’t that bad. By this point I’d figured out what had happened. I am nervous bike rider. For the 100km or so I rode in the pouring rain (especially going above 35km/h down the Beeline), I was tense like there was no tomorrow. That crazy hours-long tension caught up to me on the run and my back decided to make its displeasure known. I knew all I needed was a couple of Advil to help release the tension and I’d (probably) be as good as new.

Alas, I didn’t have any Advil because I’d heard it was terrible to take during an endurance race. In hindsight, I think I took the idea of no Advil a little too literally. Maybe if you were taking it pre-emptively and all day long it would be really bad…but to counteract a real issue, I think I would’ve been fine to take an Advil or two at that point. I wasn’t going very fast by that point after all.

Thankfully though, my Dad was able to help my back a little. I am sure we looked hilarious with him lifting me up backwards to try and get my back to stretch out, but it worked well enough that I felt a lot better. I was able to jog away from my Dad with a smile - even if the jog was incredibly slow. 
Despite my back, I was still laughing and having fun!
I probably shouldn't admit that the minute I was outside of my Dad's sight, I slowed back to a walk...but realistically, everyone could probably tell that from my split times. But I didn't want my Dad to worry about me. Truth be told, much as my back screeched every time I tried to run, I could walk pretty fast.
I passed by transition on the start of the second loop. This time, I did stop at Special Needs, mostly so I could change into dry socks. Miracle of Miracles, they actually were dry – unlike the damp pair in my T2 bag. I slathered some more body glide on my feet to prevent blisters, put on the dry socks, and decided not to take the throwaway jacket I’d also put in the bag since I wasn’t cold at all. My tri-suit was doing me well.

I got back into my jog a bit, walk a bit routine…stopping before the mud-pit section to try and work my back out (yet again) on a friendly bit of fence. Maybe even on a bench. I can’t quite remember. It’s a bit blurry when I did what – although trust me, anything the right height to let me lean against it got utilized. Benches, fences, funny square things I think were electrical boxes. You name it – I kept hoping something would help!

Interestingly, I found the mud-pit section just a bit better on the second time through. Because the rain had been done for a while, the mud started to harden – which was better than slopping through the whole thing. I walked this entire section though, finding the uneven and hardening ground quite precarious and very jarring on my poor back.

As I headed past transition for the last time – and then toward the bridge to get to the opposite side of the lake, I saw that “Smile, it makes the pain hurt less” sign again. This time, I laughed right out loud. I also smiled really big.

Same sentiment - if a different poster
It’s true, smiling helps. It reminds you why you are there – to be awesome, to push your limits, to see what you are capable of. You forget about time and just enjoy the day for what it is: a celebration of all you’ve done to get there.

And for me, I’d been through unexpected race issues once before – and smiling made that race one of the best days of my life.

During my first marathon in 2013, which I ran with a stomach bug (I ate one Cliff Shot Block during the whole marathon because my stomach was so unsettled), I quickly realized I wasn’t going to come close to my goal time because I’d been sick. So I made a new goal: Be caught smiling in every single race picture. I had people amazed that I was grinning well beyond the 30km marker. That made my day. And crossing the finish line was the best feeling ever, regardless of the time.

You might recall my realization on the bike that I could walk the entire marathon if I had to and still finish the race.
At no time during the IMAZ marathon, did I doubt I would finish. At no point did I fear I’d run out of time. To me, that made the marathon something to enjoy as much as I could.

Knowing I had no fear of missing the cut-off meant I could smile through the pain, take time to thank the very kind (and cold) volunteers, to cheer on the other racers…including several Toronto friends who passed me over the last 15km. I was thrilled to see them doing so well. My biggest hope for the day was for everyone I knew to finish and finish smiling.

I can’t count the number of people who paused to ask me if I was okay during the last 15km. I must have looked a lot worse than I felt.
Apparently that's because my back was so tight I was practically listing like a boat about to tip over. So glad I couldn't see myself.
It was honestly at least a dozen, including both racers and volunteers. My friend Erin even paused to give me a couple of salt pills to see if they’d help (sadly, they didn’t – but I appreciated the ability to try something!).

What’s funny, is that while my back refused to let me run, my legs actually felt good. As long as I didn’t run, the pain was manageable. It was when I got it into my head to jog that my back made its displeasure known.

At the bottom of the decent from Curry Road down to the lake, my friend Barry (husband and incredible Sherpa to my friend LK) found me as I passed under the bridge. I was in quite a bit of pain at that point after trying to jog down the long descent. I vaguely recall a nice (and likely worried) volunteer asking if I was okay. And that’s when I spotted Barry. He’d found some Tiger Balm and jogged out to this (very remote) part of the course to find me, and to cheer me and my friend Carole (apparently close behind) on.  He mentioned that I only had about 5km left.

5km left of a 226 km (140.6 mile) journey. It was crazy to imagine how far I’d gone – and how little I had left to go.

With profuse thanks to Barry and the kind volunteer who hovered nearby until I was underway again, I headed into the home stretch.

I decided shortly after seeing Barry that I wouldn’t try and run again until I got to the Finisher’s Chute. I figured it wasn’t worth the rebound pain when I stopped. I would just walk as quickly as I could. And so I did.
I admit I found it challenging not to run. Running is my favourite of the three sports after all. I love, love, love it. But I knew if I tried to run any more, I might collapse before I finished.
And there was no way I wasn't finishing.
A couple of times during that last 5k, I looked at the ring my friend Karina gave me a few years ago. It says: Be Awesome Today. That phrase, my race mantra if you will, has been my motto for life for a couple of years now. 
And as I am always willing to tell people: awesome isn't about speed, it's about attitude. 
That day, I was...with every  step forward. With every smile.

Over the next 5km, I chatted with a number of other racers. We were quite an eclectic mix out there. Men, women, large, tiny, old, young.  All we shared in common was a quest to reach the finish line and the utter determination that we would get there.
There'd be no giving up today.
I talked with several racers over the last few miles, but three conversations really stick out for me.

One woman came from behind looking very strong. She slowed down to check if I was okay as she passed. When I smiled and said that yes I was great and only had a few km to go, I think she was relieved. She wished me well and went on her way.

The second conversation made me realize why the first woman was probably so relieved by my response. This one was with a younger girl (at least I think she was younger than I was). I vaguely recall she was wearing a pink top. I could tell she was getting a bit down…and quickly learned that was because she was on her first loop. She was nervous that she wasn’t going to make the cut off for the second.

We were so very close. I looked at my watch. As far as I could tell, it was 20-30 minutes until 9pm - which was the cut-off to start the second loop. I did the math in my head and figured she could do it. It was maybe 2 or 3 km back to transition, if that was where the cut-off was (I wasn't sure).
Either way, I put on my biggest smile, gave her every bit of encouragement I had – and told her that she could do this – that she could make it, but she couldn’t stop. She couldn't quit. It might be close, but she could make the cut off if she just kept going. I told her to go.
I think my words helped. She picked up her pace. Before long, she disappeared into the darkness.
I smiled. I have no idea if she made the cut off, but from the look she gave when she went ahead of me, I bet she did. I really hope that she finished - that she became an Ironman.

The last conversation I had was with an older gentleman. He was quite slender, but looked strong. We walked together for at least a good kilometre, maybe two. As we walked, we chatted about racing. He’d done several Ironman races in the past. He offered me one piece of advice. He said that if there were other people around me near the finish, I should let them go ahead. That I should savour every moment of crossing the finish line – and to take the time to ensure I had it to myself. He said the extra few seconds would be worth it.

As we got to within one km of the finish line, he went ahead, putting on a great final kick. It wasn't long before he was out of sight.

And then, I was alone.

It was dark. Quiet. Peaceful. The only sounds were my footfalls: Left, right, repeat.

As I strode closer and closer to the finish line, there were no tears. I’d shed those along with any worries I had about not finishing in the last kilometre of the bike. This was pure celebration.

As I turned into the finishing chute, I realized I was still alone.

I started to run. In my head, I ran smoothly. In hindsight, I looked well beyond drunk. It didn’t matter. All I could hear was the roar of the crowd.

A few steps from the finish, I stopped. Despite what friends and family watching – live and at home – thought, I wasn’t hurting when I stopped.

No, I wanted to hold onto that moment forever. I paused to soak in the atmosphere, so I would never forget the feeling. The booming music. The roaring crowd. Cowbells. Noisemakers. People banging on the side of the finisher’s chute.

Mike Reilly – the Voice of Ironman - calling me in.

 “Come on, Jana…just a few more steps…..”

What’s the expression – an object in motion will stay in motion?  Wish I’d thought of that before I stopped just shy of the finish line. But I could see my Dad hovering just beyond the finish – waiting for me to come through.

I took those three steps: by far the hardest ones I took all day. I tried to raise my hands over my head.  

Basking in the moment.

As I crossed the finish line, I heard the words I’d used to get me through some incredibly long workouts: a six and a half hour trainer ride. A 34km run. A five hour brick followed by a 16km run. Whenever I got tired or felt like I couldn’t finish a workout, I imagined Mike Reilly saying those magic words and I found the energy I needed to get it done.

This time, those words were not in my imagination. They were real.

“You are an Ironman”

A very drunk looking Ironman, but still an Ironman!
I bet you thought I’d stop the chapter there, but I can’t leave it at that. As I crossed the finish line, I stopped for the second time. There was no way I was going to get moving again.

My Mom, watching on the live feed tells me I said, “Help me.” Maybe I did, who knows. Certainly I needed help.
And in the next moment, there was my Dad, pushing his way through a pile of volunteers to catch me before I could fall over.
Having my Dad catch me before I could fall. What more could a girl ask for?

Thanks Dad.

Final Run Time: 5:31:04 (59/120 AG, 332/765 Women, 1,493/2,676 Overall)
Ironman Arizona Finish Time: 13:59:16 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ironman Arizona Race Report - Chapter 2: Don't Crash

As I headed into transition, a volunteer passed my T1 bag to me as I went by (Thank you awesome volunteer!). From there, I was sheparded into the women’s change tent. I admit, it was nice to know exactly where the change tent was from volunteering in T2 last year – it meant I had one less thing to worry about.

I finished around 1/3 through the pack of swimmers  – so during the peak of the swim-exit curve I think. That's probably why the transition tent was a bit of a zoo with people blocking paths to all the chairs. Rather than try and find a seat, I dumped my bag of gear on a table at the front of the tent and changed while standing. This was incredibly awkward, but it also meant I didn’t get comfortable in transition. If I’d sat down, maybe I would’ve wanted to stay awhile!

Several volunteers asked me if I needed help, but I didn’t need any. My simple plan was to methodically go through what I needed and take my time so I didn’t forget anything. It was going to be a long ride after all.

For months I’d debated whether to do full changes in transition or to just stick with my tri-suit. In hindsight, I am extremely glad I decided to do full changes even if it took a lot of time. Given the day’s weather, putting on dry clothes was nice – even if my run gear was not so dry by the time I got to T2.

Got to love foreshadowing, right?

On the funny side, putting my dry sports bra on was a comedic challenge I wasn’t expecting since I’ve never had issues before. One volunteer noted me struggling and helped pull it down in back. What a lifesaver. (Thanks awesome volunteer!).

I put on my LPC bike jersey and shorts, got my socks, shoes, gloves, sunglasses and helmet on, and then started stuffing my wetsuit into my bag. When I was done, one of the volunteers said not to worry about the bag and shoed me out the tent flap.

I let the sunscreen volunteers put a bit on me – just in case the clouds cleared up. After all, I had this happen to me at Barrelman in 2014. It poured before the start and then got incredibly sunny on the bike. I was hoping for something similar at IMAZ.

Insert maniacal laugher here.

Outside of the change tent, I quickly got my bearings and started jogging toward my bike. I had a fantastic place in transition, practically in front of the Bike Exit sign. Thank goodness for that because transition was massive. I can understand how people can get lost in there. It only took me a second to find my bike and to start my ‘extra’ watch. Then I just had a few steps to get to the bike exit. 
T1 Time: 8:54

After seeing a crash right out of T1 last year, I was very careful riding out of Tempe Beach Park. I figured the first 500m would be the most difficult part of the ride and if I got out of there, I’d be good. And I was.
The exit onto Rio Salado from Tempe Beach Park...I'm not in this pic.
Once I hit Rio Salado, I stretched my legs for a bit and got into a comfortable groove. I was cheerful and full of energy. There were smiles.
First Loop: Felt great!

The ride out to the Beeline Highway went by pretty quick. As I made my way up to the turnaround for the first time (it was a 3 loop course), I felt very good despite a bit of a headwind. I was settled, confident and happy with what I was doing.
My big goal early on was not to push too hard – so I tried to slow down when I found myself riding faster than my goal average. It wasn’t a warm day, so I had to remind myself to drink regularly to get my CarboPro calories – and to eat a honey stinger chew once in a while as well.
Cactus giving the finger...foreshadowing of the weather to come?
The miles after the turnaround on the Beeline were the best part of the day. After spending 10 miles or so going uphill, I got to go downhill with the wind at my back. Because the Beeline isn’t very steep (it’s basically a false flat), I didn’t have to worry about the descent. I just held on a went as fast as I could go with the same effort as I’d been riding all the way along. I felt like I was flying.

I made it back to transition to start the second loop. Of course, I saw Barry Richards and my friends Paula and Karen out there. So great to know people – it really makes a difference!

I can’t remember exactly when it started to rain to be honest. I feel like it was right around the beginning of the second loop. I could see the clouds in the distance and they just kept on coming closer…grey, ominous and not very friendly looking given I was on my bike. I hate riding in the rain.

I started to hear little plinks on my helmet. That’s when I realized it was raining. Very quickly, those plinks got louder and louder, practically reverberating in my ears. For a little while I thought I was hearing hail given the sounds were so loud – but I’m pretty sure they were just rain drops. Looking at the road, the water droplets were bouncing it was hitting so hard.
Of course, there were no photographers on the course at this point. I swear all the official pictures make it look like we had a beautiful day.

Very quickly, the road became a wet mess. As I climbed the Beeline, I was hoping the rain would hurry up and stop. No such luck. I kept drinking from my Camelbak and got started into my honey stingers since the rain was filling my bento box. Lucky for me, the honey stinger chews didn’t melt into goo with the rain – they just became slippery.

As I turned to head back down the Beeline, I had an interesting choice to make…slow down or do what I did the first time – and just pedal as hard as the wind would carry me. The wind was picking up now – but it was still a tailwind.

Despite being a bit terrified, I decided to go with it.

This is where riding in the rain several times during my training really helped. First during a drafting clinic and triathlon clinic, then while on various rides over the summer - and finally when I did 80km as part of a cold, windy and very wet PwC Epic Tour in September.

With this experience going for me, I hunkered down over my handlebars and held onto my brakes for dear life. I zoomed down the Beeline at a similar speed to my first loop. I didn’t let go for anything. There was no eating, no drinking…just focusing on what I could see in the few feet ahead of me – and trying not to do anything that might surprise people coming behind. Interestingly, I actually passed a few people (not many) – which I thought was awesome. I smiled, laughed out loud a few times, and kept a running playlist of songs with the word ‘rain’ going in my head.

I kept reminding myself that I was there doing an Ironman in the desert and it was pouring rain. Blame it on me. I picked this race because it was going to be dry. I should know better!

On the way back into Tempe, I started to feel bad for the volunteers. The weather was not what any of them expected either. I am sure they were much colder than I was, given they weren’t moving!

I am pretty sure I saw Barry again on this loop – and, as I went around the turn to start my second lap, there was my dad! My friend Paula actually got a picture of him in the Bike VIP tent - although when I saw him, he was outside braving the wet!
My Dad patiently waiting to catch sight of me
I admit, seeing my Dad made my day and got me revved up for my last loop. I saw Karen and Paula again on this lap as well I think. In fact, Paula got a picture of me.
Proof it was raining - Thanks Paula!
On the way up the Beeline for the third time, the rain stopped for a while. This gave me a nice (if short) reprieve – although the wind was picking up, so I felt my pace dropping on the uphill to the turnaround. I figured that was okay though since I’d still have the wind at my back on the way down.

Around this time, I saw a lovely rainbow in the distance. That made me smile and push a bit harder. I took it as a sign I was going to finish. Wish I could have taken a picture of it!

Midway through the last loop was when I started to feel incredibly stiff. It was a chore just to let go of my handlebars at various points. But I peeled my fingers off regularly to stretch them out - and did my best to keep fueled and hydrated.

I am proud of how far I’ve come with respect to eating and drinking on the bike. Less than 6 months earlier, I still wasn’t able to take my hands off my handlebars. Here’s to my coach’s diligence in keeping me practicing that skill until I finally, finally had it.

As I approached the turnaround for the last time, the rain started up again. Yippee! As I turned around, I decided to do the same thing I’d done on the second loop: I pushed as hard as I could down the hill and ignored everything but the road in front of me.
Official pic from near the end of the bike.
At one point I passed a bike crash. Several people had already stopped to help. I was given a wave so I kept going. As I glanced at the girl on the ground from the corner of my eye, I felt badly since it was pretty clear she wasn’t going to be finishing the race that day. I just hope she was okay overall.

Needless to say, I was a bit more cautious the last stretch. My hands felt glued to my handlebars at this point and my elbows and forearms ached a lot – no doubt from tension (what a weird thing to hurt during an Ironman, right?). My legs felt pretty good oddly enough.

A few kilometers from town, I approached the bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I went to shift gears but my fingers weren’t moving very well. A second later, I felt the tell-tale looseness that said I’d dropped my chain.

I quickly came to a stop, jumped off, quickly flipped the chain back on, then got going again. The entire incident took maybe 30 seconds.

Aside: Getting my chain back on was the only time I stopped during the entire IMAZ bike leg. To be honest, I was so afraid that if I stopped in the rain, I’d have a problem getting started again.

The last few km into transition were almost surreal. I teared up, knowing that even if I suddenly had 3 flat tires, I could walk my bike to transition.  Every km closer that I got, I breathed a bit easier.
Official picture...close to the end
As I approached transition, it must have been the cut-off time for people starting the third loop of the bike. I had to watch as two different people were stopped from proceeding by an official. Watching them made me realize how lucky I was to have no real issues on that bike ride, despite the rain.

Riding into Tempe Beach Park, I realized that I was going to do this.

As I wobbled to a stop at the dismount line and handed my bike off to a volunteer, I knew that I had enough time to walk every step of the marathon and still finish before midnight.

I knew – regardless of what happened on the run (and I certainly tested that out as you will see in the next chapter) – that I was going to do this.
I was going to be an Ironman.

Final bike time: 6:48:05 (48/120 AG, 285/765 women, and 1484/2676 overall)